"The war we fight today is more than a military conflict," said President Bush to the American Legion. "It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century."
But if the ideology of our enemy is "Islamofascism," what is the ideology of George W. Bush? According to James Montanye, writing in The Independent Review, it is "democratic fundamentalism." Montanye borrows Joseph Schumpeter’s depiction of Marxism to describe it.
Like Marxism, he writes, democratic fundamentalism "presents, first, a system of ultimate ends that embody the meaning of life and are absolute standards by which to judge events and actions; and, secondly, a guide to those ends which implies a plan of salvation and the indication of the evil from which mankind, or a chosen section of mankind, is to be saved. … It belongs to that subgroup (of ‘isms’) which promises paradise this side of the grave."
Ideology is substitute religion, and Bush’s beliefs were on display in his address to the Legion, where he painted the "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century" in terms of good and evil.
"On the one side are those who believe in the values of freedom … the right of all people to speak, and worship, and live in liberty. And on the other side are those driven by the values of tyranny and extremism, the right of a self-appointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest."
Casting one’s cause in such terms can be effective in wartime. In his Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural, Lincoln converted a war to crush Southern secession into a crusade to end slavery and save democracy on earth.
Wilson recast a European war of imperial powers as a " war to end war" and "make the world safe for democracy." FDR and Churchill in the Atlantic Charter talked of securing "the Four Freedoms," but were soon colluding to hand over Eastern Europe to the worst tyrant and mass murderer of the 20th century.
The peril of ideology is that it rarely comports with reality and is contradicted by history, thus leading inevitably to disillusionment and tragedy. Consider but a few of the assertions in Bush’s address.
Said Bush, we know by "history and logic" that "promoting democracy is the surest way to build security." But history and logic teach, rather, what George Washington taught: The best way to preserve peace is to be prepared for war and to stay out of wars that are none of the nation’s business.
"Democracies don’t attack each other or threaten the peace," said Bush. How does he then explain the War of 1812, when we went to war against Britain, when she was standing up to Napoleon? What about the War Between the States? Were not the seceding states democratic? What about the Boer War, begun by the Brits? What about World War I, fought between the world’s democracies, which also happened to be empires ruling subject peoples?
In May 1901, a 26-year-old Tory member of Parliament rose to issue a prophetic warning: "Democracy is more vindictive than Cabinets. The wars of peoples will be more terrible than the wars of kings." Considering the war that came in 1914 and the vindictive peace it produced, giving us Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler, was not Churchill more right than Bush?
"Governments accountable to the people focus on building roads and schools — not weapons of mass destruction," said Bush. But is it not the democracies — Israel, India, Britain, France, the United States — that possess a preponderance of nuclear weapons? Are they all disarming? Were not the Western nations first to invent and use poison gas and atom bombs?
Insisting it is the lack of freedom that fuels terrorism, Bush declares, "Young people who have a say in their future are less likely to search for meaning in extremism." Tell it to Mussolini and the Blackshirts. Tell it to the Nazis, who loathed the free republic of Weimar, as did the communists.
"Citizens who can join a peaceful political party are less likely to join a terrorist organization." But the West has been plagued by terrorists since the anarchists. The Baader-Meinhoff Gang in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, the Puerto Ricans who tried to kill Harry Truman, the London subway bombers were all raised in freedom.
"Dissidents with the freedom to protest around the clock," said the president, "are less likely to blow themselves up at rush hour." But Hamas and Islamic Jihad resort to suicide bombing because they think it a far more effective way to overthrow Israeli rule than marching with signs.
What Bush passed over in his speech is that it is the autocratic regimes in Cairo, Riyadh and Amman that hold back the pent-up animosity toward America and Israel, and free elections that have advanced Hamas, Hezbollah, the Moslem Brotherhood and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.
In Iraq, we see the inevitable tragedy of ideology, of allowing some intellectual construct, not rooted in reality, to take control of the minds of men.